Selling your ideas to help make improvements in the workplace

Tom Moriarty says convey the benefits and convince decision makers.

By Tom Moriarty

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If you’re trying to make improvements in the workplace — buying an infrared camera, upgrading your CMMS, getting PLC training for your electrical shop — you often need support from other people in your organization, people who can authorize resource expenditures. It’s likely that, in order to make something happen, you’ll need to get resources such as labor hours, equipment, tools, materials, or services from others. How do you “sell” the project? To sell the project you have to think like a salesman.

There are good salespeople and poor salespeople. And there are exceptionally good salespeople who seem to always get what they ask for. One of the most important aspects that predicts how well a salesperson is likely to perform has to do with how diligent the salesperson is in communicating with the customer. According to statistics given on www.followupsuccess.com:

  • 48% of salespeople never followed up with a prospect
  • 25% of people make a second contact and stop
  • 12% of salespeople make three contacts and stop
  • 10% of salespeople make more than three contacts.

The same study noted that:

  • 2% of sales are made on the first contact
  • 3% of sales are made on the second contact
  • 5% of sales are made on the third contact
  • 10% of sales are made on the fourth contact
  • 80% of sales are made on the fifth to the 12th contact with a salesperson.

Every person that wants to get an improvement initiative approved is part salesperson. Whether you’re an employee of an organization or you’re a business development person, trying to sell a customer on some wonderful product or service, the same basic concepts can be used.

Tom Moriarty, PE, CMRP, is a former Coast Guardsman having served for 24 years; an enlisted Machinery Technician for nine years, then earning a commission through Officer Candidate School, retired as a Lt. CommanderTom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP is president of Alidade MER. He is a former Coast Guardsman, having served for 24 years; an enlisted Machinery Technician for nine years; earned a commission through Officer Candidate School; and retired as a Lt. Commander. During his final year of service, 2003, Tom was selected as the U.S. Coast Guard’s Federal Engineer of the Year; an award sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE). He is a member of the Society of Maintenance and Reliability professionals, the past Chair of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), Canaveral Florida Section, and a member of the ASME Plant Engineering and Maintenance (PEM) Division. He has a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Western New England College, and an MBA from Florida Institute of Technology; Professional Engineer (PE) licensed in Florida and Virginia, Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professional, various credentials in management and reliability fields. He can be reached at tjmpe@alidade-mer.com.

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You absolutely have to believe in the product or service so that you project enthusiasm. You have to understand your customers. You have to know what is important to that customer and how the improvement you’re proposing can help that customer to improve costs, productivity, safety, regulatory compliance or quality, or combinations of those goals. This can be thought of as the “value proposition.”

The value proposition ties the benefits of the solution to the things that the decision maker feels are important. Value is essentially getting more out of the solution than what is being paid for the solution. Decision makers will want the payback — time to recoup the cost of the initiative — to take less than one year, or recurring benefits to have at least a 20% improvement over the status quo.

Risk also plays a roll. An improvement costing $1,000 has much less risk than a $10,000,000 commitment; bigger bets entail higher risk. There is also the risk that what you’re proposing will actually deliver the value you say it will. What is your history of success on other recommendations? Are you viewed as having good judgment? Do you have a history of delivering results?

People who place ads on television and radio channels broadcast their messages consistently and repeatedly. Research has shown that people need to be exposed to an advertising message 27 times for advertisers to have confidence that the message was heard. Everyone remembers the camel walking through the office annoying his co-workers:; “Guess what day it is? Woo hoo. Hump day. Yeah.” But do you remember what or which company the commercial is advertising?

A valuable lesson is that, to make the sale, you need to communicate the idea to decision makers and those who influence the decision makers. The message needs to be consistent. In developing your message, try to make it simple and easy to communicate. This is because the decision maker will likely have to justify the decision to peers or others when higher-level authority is needed. If your message is succinct and effective, it will be easier for the decision maker to accurately repeat the message to others. The last thing you want at that stage is for an intermediary to miscommunicate the value of the improvement.

So, if you’re a craftsman, manager, or supervisor in a manufacturing plant, and you need to get an improvement authorized, the lesson is to communicate the opportunity to your “customer” in terms that are important to your customer, with enthusiasm, persistence, and clarity. Use the example of successful business development and salespersons to give your ideas the best chance at success. By the way, the camel commercial is for Geico Insurance.

Read Tom Moriarty's monthly column, Human Capital.

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